Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cave Paintings - Where It All Started

Look at a cave painting- beasts in profile, possibly a hunt- painted with pigments from the earth mixed with the fat of the animals it portrays. I see remnants of another era. I see a mural painted by people like you and I- more so than we might want to believe. As you look, feel the perceive of this painting. Can't you see the light from the fire flickering? Smell the cave. Close your eyes and feel the damp air nearby you? You are in a cave, painting on the walls the essence of the daily lives of you and your community. Imagine it.

Imagine what it would be like to live in 15,000 B.C.E. This is long before any of the comforts we know has even remotely been belief of. This is long before transportation and transportation was even possible, save for in the middle of your immediate surroundings. It's long before supermarkets and specialists- so you have to make your own clothes, catch and put in order your own food- with a minute diet, and wholly take care of yourself, without dentists, doctors, or any person else because you barely even understand your own body and how it works. Your life expectancy is about thirty, you will die of a tasteless cold- if you survive straight through the winter at all, and danger lurks nearby every corner. How does it feel?

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The Hall of the Bulls

Cave Paintings - Where It All Started

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These paintings are prehistoric, meaning they were painted before human history. That is- before history could have been kept- long before in fact. One singular cave painting was found in Lascaux, France, in 1940, and is called the Rotunda, or Hall of the Bulls. It is placed about ten feet above floor level and depicts a procession of horses and bulls. It is part of a group of paintings of Upper Paleolithic art found in French caves and is some of the earliest examples of art in history. Some other caves, however, have been found with paintings which date back some 25,000 years.

The Lascaux caves are currently off limits to the public, following a resumption duration which is now under observation. Some 2,000 images were found to decorate the walls of the caves, many of which are deteriorating, or difficult to discern. Of the images that are truly recognizable, over 900 are made out to be animals, with 600 having been identified. Of these animals, the majority are horses, then stags, cattle and bison. Several images are of a cat, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human.

What do these paintings tell us? First and prominent we see a dominant animal theme. We can clearly see the significance of the animals to prehistoric man. This was before animals were domesticated for agriculture, meat, or pets, which means all animals were wild in the eyes of our cave friends. Beasts were both prey and predator.

Sounds pretty scary doesn't it? Nonetheless, animals were an prominent part in the preserving of their lives. A flourishing hunt meant the dissimilarity in the middle of flourishing and living straight through the winter and an end to their existence. With a minute diet of fish, nuts, berries, and meat, they could use all the food they could get, and they couldn't take a ride to the supermarket to get it. There lives were in their own hands. On the other hand, the landscape was nowhere near a safe place to speculation in terms of animal threats. Larger and more ferocious animals lurked nearby and hunted you. They had to eat too.

So it's no surprise that we see animals taking town stage in cave art, having so much importance. A lack of animals meant a lack of meat, and an overabundance of predator beasts such as tigers meant impending danger. The animals painted on the walls are not glorified, rather painted realistically from nature. The vary in size, from small, approximately pictograph representations to very large, namely the seventeen foot long bull in the Hall of the Bulls- the largest animal discovered in cave art. The beasts were all the time in profile, and usually in motion.

Who Were The Painters?

Archaeologists have used all things they could from nearby the caves as clues for insight the lives of these people. They guess that these folk didn't truly live inside these caves, but rather in shelters just in and nearby the cave openings. To be able to paint on the cave walls, they used lamps made from plant materials and animal fat. They used paints made from pigment mixed with animal fat, usually combined in small cups or with flat stones. The colors were mostly red and black, but sometimes yellow, maroon, and violet. Pigments were found plainly such as iron oxide for red, ocher for brown and yellow, and chalk for white as well as for lightening colors. Black was derived from manganese.

It's hard to say exactly what was going on in their lives judging plainly from the artwork. Many of the symbols found on the walls remain enigmatic. For instance, hand prints have been found which lack one or more fingers. Some historians believe this could have been some kind of hunter's code. Others think the fingers could have been removed in some sort of primitive religious ritual. Other symbols are hard to make head or tails of, together with basic shapes often filled in, arrangements of dots, arrows and bars. Could these symbols be just for decoration? At this point it is approximately impossible to say.

What can be said, however, is that these prehistoric artists were crafty. Besides plainly painting, they were sculptors as well as engravers. Some paintings show reliefs of figures, in whole or in part. Eyes and muzzles were sometimes cut into the wall before paint was applied. In some instances natural bumps and grooves from the stone were taken benefit of to portray parts of the animals and other figures.

The actual painting was fulfilled, mostly by using hands- fingers to trace thick lines. But Besides their hands, some sorts of makeshift primitive paintbrushes were used from branches, twigs, and even bristles of hair or animal fur. These early artists used color contrast, shading, cross hatching, and various line thickness to portray their subjects with an astounding accuracy. Primitive as they were, talentless they were not.

It goes without saying that we can't pinpoint who the individual artists must have been. Writing was not invented for tens of thousands of years so the painter could hardly leave his or her signature. Interestingly, though, specialists have noticed determined styles among the caves and how they have evolved. The styles range from three dissimilar periods- the first being a crude portrayal of animals, barely formed and hardly realistic looking. The second is a bit more evolved, showing more recognizable animals with rounded bellies, snouts, muzzles, eyes and horns, yet the legs remained crude. The third stage shows animals which can be identified by species, and whose movement has been portrayed. At this stage, art was becoming much more realistic. The Lascaux cave paintings, seen above, belong to this period.

It's intelligent to wonder who the actual artists were who created these cave masterpieces. Was there a singular artist responsible or did the society contribute? Could the whole theme of showing the hunt be the consequent of a holy man or religious frame praying for success? Since people are found to have not lived in these caves, were they used for extra rituals or ceremonies, which the paintings are meant to complement?

No one can say for sure, only guess and take educated guesses. But we can say these cave people's lives are fascinating. Before society as whole began to take care of itself and make leaps and bounds in science and technology to make life easier, these people were etching an existence on their own, with only the help of nature, which is often cruel and unforgiving. Their art gives a see of who they were, yet leave us to quiz, what they were thinking. What we know is they were early Man, some of the first thinking humans, whose slow and steady evolution brought us where we are today. We can thank them for not letting the elements, the odds, and mum Nature get the best of them. Otherwise we wouldn't have anything, let alone art. But this where art began, the whole shebang started right there in those dark caverns. If they could only see where it's gotten to. While we ponder at abstract paintings, minimalism, hyperrealism, and any other new form of expression, just remember one thing-

Let's not forget where we came from.

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